A Creativity and Innovation Course for Engineers

A Creativity and Innovation Course for Engineers

Giovanni Emanuele Corazza, Sergio Agnoli, Sara Martello
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0643-0.ch004
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In this chapter, the teaching methodologies and pedagogical styles adopted within the “Creativity and Innovation”course, offered at the University of Bologna in Italy are described. The main goal of the course is to give students both a theoretical foundation and a hands-on experience about meta-cognitive strategies for the control of the creative thinking process. The students were engaged in the selection of a focus area within the range promoted by a call for new start-ups, creating the playground for team-oriented sessions in which relevant information was collected, divergent modifiers were applied, ideas were generated, business models were sketched and assessed, and finally concluding the course with a team presentation of the generated ideas. The feedback received from the engineering students was very positive. While the ideational part of the class followed a learning-by-doing approach, this was preceded by a specific theoretical part, striking an effective balance between theory and practice.
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Introduction: Teaching Creativity In The Information Society

Even though we live in the XXI century, we still have to bear the consequences of the bipartition of schools of thought that occurred as a result of the age of enlightenment, with the sharp separation between rationalism and romanticism. These intellectual movements represented two very different ways of shedding light onto the human mind, as anyone can agree; however, the human characteristics that they praise are not and should not be in contrast. All human beings need both rationality and emotion, and indeed a very careful balance of the two. But this dichotomy is unfortunately still in place, and works as an implicit theory for both laymen and scholars, such that prejudices divide people into two rather sharply distinct classes. Clearly, engineers are pre-mapped into the rationality container. This is the reason why a discussion of creativity in the domains of science, technology, and particularly in engineering might appear to require qualifying statements. The real paradox is that, if anyone today is asked the simple question: “What do you think represented the major innovation in the course of your lifetime?”, it can be taken as a certainty that nearly all of the answers will regard technology, its systems or its devices, with the Internet and the smartphone contending the first two positions. Clearly, new ideas in the engineering domain enjoy today the highest impact, and therefore this implicit theory is actually far from the reality which is lived everyday by the scientist and the engineer who takes seriously his/her mission to produce advancements in knowledge and inventive innovations to improve the life conditions and sustainability of the human species. Engineers must be creative.

Key Terms in this Chapter

DIMAI: Cognitive model describing the creative thinking process, based on five mental states: Drive, Information, Movement, Assessment, Implementation.

Pragmatist Approach: Methodology based on the posits and tenets of pragmatist philosophy, relating meaning to the impact on reality.

Innovation: Activity of individual or groups related to the practical exploitation and implementation of products and processes characterized by potential originality and effectiveness.

Information Society: A form of societal organization which is characterized by the widespread use of Information and Communication Technologies, providing ubiquitous access to information databases.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICT): Technologies related to the exploitation of telecommunication networks and devices, computers, and electronics.

Divergent Thinking Modality: Cognitive ability to explore alternative patterns starting from a single encoded stimulus.

Creativity: Activity of individual or groups related to the generation of products characterized by potential originality and effectiveness.

Co-Creation: Collaborative generation of ideas that are original and effective, typically through the use of ICT tools.

Convergent Thinking Modality: Cognitive ability to converge from a set of encoded stimuli to a single pattern providing the best possible match.

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